Saturday, November 28, 2020

Israel becomes the first democracy to deport a Human Rights Watch worker

By Yehudit Tzfat - November 27, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Human rights]

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, was expelled from Israel on Monday for allegedly promoting boycotts of Israel. Shakir is the first human rights representative to be deported from Israel. 

A contentious battle emerged between Shakir and the Israeli government after Interior Minister Aryeh Deri refused to renew Shakir’s work visa. The year-and-a-half-long fight culminated in Israel’s Supreme Court upholding the government’s decision to expel Shakir. 

The activist is the first person expelled from the Jewish state under a controversial 2017 law that bans foreign nationals advocating for a boycott of Israel. Shakir is an American citizen. 

"Despite my deportation today, the Israeli government has failed to muzzle HRW or the human rights movement," Shakir said during a press conference in Jerusalem, standing beside HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth.  

HRW denies Shakir advocates on behalf of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement  — a grassroots, Palestinian-led campaign pressuring Israel to comply with international law. Instead, the organisation accuses Israel of attempting to suppress criticism of the government and policies targeting Palestinians. 

"It’s [the case] about an escalation of assaults on the human rights movement," Shakir continued. "There must be a reboot in the way the international community engages around this issue ... So long as there’s no consequence for the regular human rights abuse, so long as impunity reigns, you will only see more and more rights defenders coming under pressure.”

Roth condemned the deportation of Shakir on Sunday, saying “I cannot think of another democracy that has barred a Human Rights Watch researcher.” He mentioned that North Korea, Venezuela and Iran have barred HRW staffers, but a functioning democracy hasn’t taken such severe measures — until now. 

“I think it demonstrates the increasingly constrained nature of Israeli democracy,” Roth said. 

Roth maintained Shakir will continue his role with HRW in a neighbouring country, likely in Jordan’s capital, Amman. 

Referring to countries that have banned HRW staff, Roth said, "They all thought that if you can somehow silence the messenger, you can then silence Human Rights Watch. It didn't work out. We find ways to cover these countries even if our researcher is not able to be on the ground and we'll do the same thing with Israel.” 

As Shakir prepared to exit, he reiterated he will eventually come back. “I’ll be back when the day comes that we have succeeded in dismantling the system of discrimination impacting Israelis and Palestinians,” Shakir said.

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